Programming note: The Offbeat will be a regular analytical look into some aspect of the Utah Jazz. Expect one every Jazz off-break (i.e., during 2-3 day breaks between Jazz games, there will still be only one Offbeat) for the rest of the season.
DeMarre Carroll's rise has been impressive in the 2012-2013 season: after limited playing time early, including 5 DNP-CDs in November, Carroll met with Ty Corbin to talk about his minutes. As the Jazz were struggling against Philadelphia on November 16th, Corbin gave Carroll a chance. In his 23 minutes that game, Carroll went 6-6 for 17 points, as well as contributing 5 rebounds and 2 steals. Since then, Carroll has consistently played at least 15 minutes per game, peaking during Friday night's game against Toronto when he played 27 minutes for the shorthanded Jazz.
His play has been impressive, garnering accolades from around the team. What is Carroll doing so well?
Let's begin with his shooting percentages. Carroll is shooting 46.7 from the field, 35.3 from three, and 78.6 from the free throw line. Those are all approximately average for his position, but they represent an increase over his previous career averages of 41.1/31.0/71.7. He's done it in two ways: by improving his finishing ability at the rim (53.4% his rookie year, 60.9% last year, and 72.7% this year), and decreasing his inefficient midrange shots (compared to last season, Carroll is taking .4 more shots per game at the rim and .3 more shots from 3, while taking .5 shots fewer per game from 3-15 feet). It's not really an asset yet, but Carroll was on the fringes of leaving the NBA due to his bad shooting percentages, and that's no longer the case.
Where Carroll really adds value, though, is in the possession battle. This is obvious, but having more possessions gives a team more chances to score than their opponent, and allows a team to win a game even if they are shooting at a lower level than their opponents. This part of the game is where Carroll excels.
Consider his offensive rebounding, for example: of the available offensive rebounding opportunities while he was on the floor, Carroll garnered 11% of the rebounds. This is the third highest value on the team, only surpassed by the much larger Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Over the course of 36 minutes, this means 2.7 more offensive rebounds than position competitor Marvin Williams, and 2.3 more than Gordon Hayward. This means roughly 3 more points per game, from having DeMarre on the court! That's really significant.
Carroll continues his war on possessions by getting large bunches of steals; only Earl Watson has a higher steal percentage on the team in his limited minutes. As a result, Carroll gets 2.2 steals per 36 minutes, 1.1 steals more than Gordon Hayward and 1.5 more than Marvin Williams. Again, this means extra possessions for the Jazz to score on, especially because steals are likely to lead to uber-efficient fast breaks opportunities.
He also gets more blocks than his SF counterparts, averaging 1.4 per 36 minutes compared to Hayward and Williams' 0.7 blocks per 36 minutes. While blocks aren't guaranteed to lead to extra possessions and so therefore are less valuable, they can start fast breaks. It's just another advantage for Carroll.
The other really impressive point in Carroll's impact on possessions is just how rarely he turns it over: only on 5.4 percent of his possessions does he give the ball to the other team, the least on the Jazz (impressively, even lower than the vaunted Al Jefferson). This means he only turns it over 0.6 times per 36 minutes, compared to Marvin Williams' 1.2 TP36, and Hayward's turnover prone hands at 2.5 TP36. Again, having Carroll in the game means having 1-2 more possessions than the other possibilities.
What this all adds up to is a player who is impressively valuable. While the Jazz rank 9th in the NBA in points per possession (0.92), they can take advantage of having more possessions than their opponent to score even more points than they should. If Carroll played 36 minutes per game, the Jazz would probably have 5 or so more possessions than they otherwise would. That's really significant to a team's success! Indeed, Carroll's 1.1 Win Shares in his 16 games so far is actually equal to the amount of Win Shares he's had in the other 107 games of his career.
Is it sustainable? That's a really difficult question without a clear answer. This is Carroll's 4th season and he's now 26 years old, it's entirely possible that his level of play has improved. On the other hand, it's such a big leap that some level of regression is probably to be expected, and of course, small sample sizes apply.
At the very least, DeMarre Carroll's level of play has to be recognized for what it's been over the course of the season so far, and has earned him the right to get the chance to answer the sustainability questions. Carroll's style of play has been unconventional, but devastatingly effective.